Winter Gardening

Winter gardening is often not considered when starting a new vegetable garden because of the cold weather, short days, and frost that can come unexpectedly. However, there are many vegetables that can be sown in July or even August to yield an autumn harvest. There are also some good crops for planting in September before winter sets in.

Gardening - Vegetables

The following list includes both early-season and late-season crops suitable for winter harvesting, along with helpful tips for planting each type of seed:

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Plant these seeds directly outside into well prepared soil about ¼ inch deep after the danger of frost has passed. These plants do best with 6-8 hours of sun per day, but will grow in part shade as well. They are susceptible to wind damage, so it’s best to plant them in a spot that is protected from strong gusts.

Harvest your greens from the outside of the patch as they grow and allow the inner leaves room to mature for later use. Greens harvested before they flower taste sweeter and are generally less bitter than those harvested after flowering.

Lettuce: Try ‘Tennis Ball’ or ‘Buttercrunch’ lettuces which can stand up to light frosts. For more heat resistant varieties such as ‘Oakleaf’ lettuce, wait until temperatures dip into the high 30s (°F) before harvesting them . Lettuce seeds germinate best at 65-85°F. If you are starting indoors, use a heating pad to keep the soil warm until germination occurs.

Carrots: Carrots are best harvested after they have been exposed to light frosts, which make them sweeter and more flavorful . Sow these seeds about an inch deep in loose soil and thin plants once they reach 2 inches tall. They can also be planted in late summer for a harvest in early spring before the ground freezes.

Radishes: These fast-growing root crops mature within 30 days and can stand up to light frosts . Plant seeds 1/4-1/2 inch deep and expect crisp white roots when harvesting between 50-60 days after planting . Radish greens can also be eaten raw or sautéed like spinach.

Beets: These root crops can be sown and harvested all season long . Sow them about 3 weeks before the last frost and thin plants once they produce several greens to allow the roots room to grow. Beets mature in 50-70 days depending on variety . Pick small beets for tender, young greens or let them grow large and eat both parts of this plant as you would Swiss chard. Although not related, beet tops taste great added to salads or sautéed like collards.

Carrots, turnips and radishes with their many varieties will provide a harvest well into autumn and sometimes even early winter if conditions are right. Lettuce and most Asian greens will only last through the cooler parts of fall. These crops can be harvested in stages during their growing season, but will quickly go to seed when the temperature starts to drop.

The best advice for winter gardening is to harvest vegetables before temperatures dip below 28°F since anything left in the ground after that could easily freeze and rot. If you want an extended fall crop, try planting heat-resistant varieties such as kale or kohlrabi.

What can grow in a winter garden?

Early Season Crops for December–February Harvest

Cabbage: Sow seeds directly ¼-inch deep in a sunny location after the average last frost. Thin plants to 12 inches apart and harvest where temperatures are between 60–65°F. Cabbages mature in 65 days.

Brussels Sprouts: Start these cool weather crops indoors four weeks before transplanting outside into well prepared soil. They like sun but will tolerate some light shade as they grow, and can be harvested as soon as sprouts appear on their stalks after about 70 days . Allow the plant to grow throughout autumn and leave some of its leaves intact until late winter, when you can cut out the entire stalk and eat both sides of each leaf like cabbage .

Broccoli: Transplant two weeks before the last frost and thin plants to 12 inches apart once they reach 8–10 inches tall. Harvest heads at their peak when tight buds form, or allow them to remain on the plant for a few more weeks if you want broccoli florets throughout the winter. Broccoli takes around 70 days to mature.

Cauliflower: Start these cool season crops indoors four weeks before transplanting outside into well-prepared soil. They like sun but will tolerate some light shade as they grow, and can be harvested as soon as curds (the white part of the plant that resembles cauliflower) are 1 inch wide after about 75 days .

Winter Gard Tips:

  • o build a low mound of soil around each plant while it is growing for added insulation.
  • o place straw bales around your garden to protect plants, serve as mini-greenhouses, and add nutrients to the ground.
  • o try using a cold frame or cloche if you want to enjoy tender greens before they go to seed through early winter.
  • o make sure your summer crops are well protected from harsh frosts, wind, and rain in fall (this also reduces their chances of getting mildew) so they can continue producing until colder weather sets in.

Early Season Crops for March–April Harvest

Collards: Sow seeds directly ¼-inch deep in a sunny location after the average last then thin plants once they produce several greens to allow the roots room to grow . Collards mature in 50-70 days depending on variety .

Kale: Sow seeds directly ¼-inch deep in a sunny location after the average last frost. Thinning is not necessary for this biennial plant (it grows during its first year and reseeds itself in its second) but you can harvest smaller leaves once they reach 6 inches tall if you prefer baby greens or let plants mature at 12–18 inches apart for larger leaves. Kale takes about 58-77 days, depending on variety, to produce tender green leaves well into fall. Kohlrabi : These cool-weather crops like sun but will tolerate some light shade as they grow , next transplant two weeks before the last frost. Thin plants to 12 inches apart once they reach 2–3 inches tall . Kohlrabi takes 60-70 days to mature.

Radishes: Sow seeds directly ¼-inch deep in a sunny location after the average last then thin plants once they produce several greens to allow the roots room to grow . Radishes mature in 35-50 days depending on variety .

Seeding and Planting Dates for Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, and Cauliflower (from USDA Hardiness Zone Map)

  • Zone 1 – September 15 – October 15 – Transplant or sow indoors
  • Zone 2 – August 25 – September 15 – Transplant or sow indoors
  • Zone 3 – August 10 – August 25 – Transplant or sow indoors
  • Zone 4 – August 10 – September 1 – Transplant or sow indoors
  • Zone 5 – July 20 – August 10 – Transplant or sow indoors
  • Zone 6 – June 15 – July 20 – Sow outdoors (transplants may be used)

When should I start a winter garden?

Now you can start to sow some of these cool-season crops like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli in July or August (as soon as the soil warms up). Sow seeds directly ¼-inch deep in a sunny location after the average last frost date. Thin plants once they produce several leaves to allow the roots room to grow.

Organic Seed Dates for Mid-Fall Crops

Cabbage: Transplant two weeks before the last frost and thin plants to 12 inches apart once they reach 8–10 inches tall . Allow the plant to grow throughout autumn and leave some of its leaves intact until late winter, when you can cut out the entire stalk and eat both sides of each leaf like cabbage lettuce. Cabbage takes 60-90 days to mature depending on variety. Brussels sprouts : Transplant two weeks before the last frost when soil is 55 degrees or warmer . Thin plants to 12 inches apart once they reach 6–8 inches tall. Brussels sprouts are biennial plants, so they will produce in their second year after maturing in about 70-80 days depending on variety. Cauliflower : Transplant two weeks before the last frost when soil reaches 55 degrees or warmer . Rows should be 18-30 inches apart with 12–18 inches between plants . Allow leaves to develop until heads are fully formed, usually 10 to 20 days after flowering begins, at which time you can cut the plant down to the root if you need to extend the harvest. Cauliflower takes 75-110 days to mature depending on variety. Broccoli : Transplant two weeks before the last frost when soil reaches 55 degrees or warmer . Rows should be 18-30 inches apart with 12–18 inches between plants . Allow leaves to develop until heads are fully formed, usually about 20 days after flowering begins, at which time you can cut the plant down to the root if you need to extend the harvest. Broccoli takes 70-80 days to mature depending on variety.

Kohlrabi: Transplant two weeks before the last frost when soil reaches 55 degrees or warmer . Thin plants to allow their roots room to spread then thin again once they produce several greens at 6–8 inches tall to allow the roots room to grow . Kohlrabi takes 60-70 days to mature depending on variety. Radishes: Sow seeds directly ¼-inch deep in a sunny location after the average last frost and thin plants once they produce several greens at 2–3 inches tall to allow the roots room to grow. Radishes take 30-40 days to mature depending on variety.

What vegetables can be planted in winter?

Here is a selection of vegetables that grow well in the winter. Each vegetable’s description includes the average number of days to maturity, best planting time for your zone and notes on when to plant indoors.

  • Artichoke: 120-150 days from transplant
  • Asparagus: From seed, 14 months before being transplanted outdoors
  • Bean, Edible Soybean: 60-70 days from seed
  • Broccoli: 70-80 days from seed
  • Brussels Sprouts : 75-110 days from transplant depending on variety
  • Cabbage: 60-90 days from transplant depending on variety
  • Cantaloupe : 85–105 or longer from seed depending on location
  • Carrots: From seed, 14 months before being transplanted outdoors
  • Cauliflower: 75-110 days from transplant depending on variety
  • Collards: 50–60 days from transplant
  • Corn (sweet): 55-65 or longer from seed depending on location and variety
  • Cucumber: 60–80 days from transplant
  • Kohlrabi: 60-70 days from seed
  • Lettuce: 40–50 days from transplant
  • Muskmelon (cantaloupe): 85–105 or longer from seed depending on location
  • Okra : 50–70 days from transplant; 70-90 day once established in garden with little water after planting
  • Onion, Bulbing: 120-140 days from transplant
  • Onion, Bunching: 60-70 days from seed
  • Parsley: 55–60 days from transplant
  • Pea: 50-65 or longer from seed depending on location and variety
  • Pepper (sweet): 65–75 or longer from seed depending on location and variety
  • Potato : From seed, 28 months before being transplanted outdoors; If starting indoors allow 120+ days to germinate. Planted March 15th in a cold frame will yield a harvestable crop by June 15th if you live in Zones 5 & 6. After June 15th the average date of the last frost climbs to early July for these two zones. In colder climates plant after May 15th.
  • Pumpkin : 85-105 or longer from seed depending on location
  • Radish: 30-40 days from transplant
  • Rutabaga: 70–100 days from transplant
  • Spinach : From seed, 14 months before being transplanted outdoors
  • Squash (summer): 50–60 days from transplant; 60–70 days once established in garden with little water after planting
  • Squash (winter/hardy): 85-105 or longer from seed depending on location
  • Swiss Chard : 55-65 or longer from seed depending on location and variety
  • Tansy Mustard Greens : 45 days to greens when grown for use as a leaf vegetable , but only 30 days to a flowering plant
  • Turnips: 55–70 days from transplant
  • Watermelon : 85-105 or longer from seed depending on location
  • Yardlong beans: 60–80 days from seed .

Note that all these vegetables have been seeded in compost, vermiculite and perlite as well as heavy doses of home made compost tea. In order to propagate seeds indoors I have started them in a prefabricated grow tray with holes for drainage at both ends.

How do people garden in the winter?

Seed catalogs arrive in December. This is our cue to start dreaming about what we’ll plant in the garden next spring. But it doesn’t have to be too early to think about next year. The time has come to look forward and plan ahead so you can enjoy a bountiful harvest all winter long!

Plant or sow?

The first thing to do is check your seed stash and see what needs planting now: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, leeks, onions and other hardy vegetables like beets should all go into the ground as soon as possible; cucumbers and melons should also go outside now if they’re already started inside. Plant them through black plastic mulch ( available from garden centers ) for accelerated growth. I have found that the best way to get seeds started has been in a prefabricated grow tray with holes for drainage at both ends. I have also done this same process with milk cartons and toilet paper rolls, cutting them in half lengthwise, adding the appropriate medium inside the roll, planting the seed inside and then covering it all over with more of the vermiculite mixture. The only problem with these recycled items is that they are often too short to accommodate large sprouts or vegetable starts. But this method works well if you are starting spinach, lettuce or other small greens indoors for transplanting out side later on during the summer months after danger has passed here in zone 5b/6a.

If you want to grow mushrooms indoors this winter, start the spores by placing them on rye flour in open air containers (like petri dishes) and cover with foil. Keep these containers moist by spraying on water until the mycelium has grown through the surface of the colonized medium. Transfer them to sterilized sawdust/woodchips for fruiting which can be done in any unheated garage or shed where temperatures will remain above 0° F (-18° C). For more information about growing your own shiitake mushrooms check out How To Grow Shiitake Mushrooms Indoors .

Should I cover my raised beds in winter?

No, not unless you want to protect your plants from sun scald or frost heaving. If you’re growing cold weather crops like kale and leeks, the only protection you should provide is against rabbits.

If I don’t keep my raised beds covered should I turn off my irrigation?

Yes, that way the water won’t evaporate. Be sure to turn it back on once any ice has thawed so your plants can get plenty of moisture until they are put outside for good in spring.

Do I need to do fall fertilizing?

Yes! Continue adding compost or mushroom manure around established plants as long as there’s no danger of them freezing soon. Remember that broccoli requires lots of nitrogen; just before frost, feed it with alfalfa meal or bloodmeal.

How do I protect my perennials over winter?

As long as your soil is not frozen or too wet under snow cover, leave all perennial vegetables in place and just lay a thick mulch of leaves, straw or well-rotted manure over the top of them. If you want to add a protective covering like plastic sheeting, make sure to punch holes in it and thread some twine through the bottom (or lay strips of wood) so that you can secure it tightly around all sides with bricks or stones.

How do I protect my vines?

Vines such as cucumbers will benefit from a straw mulch for winter protection but if they’re on a trellis, leave the vines attached and cover your entire structure with chicken wire fencing that’s been buried under at least six inches of leaves. Run 3 strands horizontally along both sides and then one strand vertically near each end. Anchor this new structure by adding soil around the base and securing it with dead branches or evenly spaced stones.

How do I protect my grapevines?

Grapes need a thick layer of mulch over the roots for winter protection and they should be covered with plastic sheeting with an end slit to allow for breathing. This is especially important when you have a prolonged cold spell in your area. If your vines don’t already have some type of burlap or similar cloth tied around them, add this now along with dead branches positioned vertically to make it easy to tie on more protective material next fall. Remove all these materials once spring rolls back around because new growth will push right through the covering.

How do you look after a garden in the winter?

To ensure continued productivity, winter gardening requires the same basic care as any other time of year. Keep your beds well cultivated and weed free. Cut back frost-damaged foliage but wait until early spring to remove it because it will be much easier to dig through the soil if you don’t have a lot of dead material in the way. If needed, spread straw mulch over exposed roots for extra protection. Feed cold weather crops with alfalfa meal or bloodmeal between November and January, which is well before any possible new growth may occur.

What do I do with my garden in the winter US?

Since it’s not cold enough to freeze the ground solid in most areas of the US, you can keep your garden producing during winter by taking advantage of unseasonably warm spells. If there’s no snow cover, carefully uncover your raised bed and add fresh mulch before any nighttime freezes hit. If possible, it is advisable to uncover only one half of a bed so you can harvest from that area while continuing to protect the other half. Make sure to remove all harvested vegetables promptly because unprotected roots will quickly rot when left uninsulated under cold conditions.

What flowers can you plant in winter US?

Perennials can be planted in winter in much of the US, but when you’re dealing with a long cold spell, wait until spring to plant them. This includes all fruit trees and bushes; these should be handled like annuals; replant them every year because they will die out after serving their purpose for several years. If you do choose to plant perennials in winter, make sure that your soil is thoroughly warmed up.

What flowers can you plant in winter Europe?

Plants especially good for winter planting are ornamental cabbage and kale; these produce masses of color before any others (which makes them great choices for early spring interest). If you live far enough north where even the ground freezes, try heathers, which prefer the cold and also provide lovely flowers.

What flowers can survive winter in US?

There are many flowers that can survive winter with no problem. The list includes pansies, petunias, violas, primroses, snapdragons, ivy geraniums and auriculas.

What is a winter hardy plant?

A plant that is Winter hardy has the ability to survive Winter conditions, meaning it does not die due to low temperatures. Most plants are considered half-hardy which means they may be damaged by frost but will usually survive. However, if you live in an area with very cold winters or have a garden exposed to high winds then you should look for winter hardy plants to ensure the best chance of survival.

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